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Is Working Out with Sandbags Just More CrossFit Nonsense?

I’m unfamiliar with beach bodies that come from bench-pressing the actual beach

Twenty years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find anything other than variations of barbells and dumbbells being lifted inside of a commercial gym. Even classic resistance-training items like medicine balls were relatively scarce. These days, however, everyone seems to be slapping ropes, flipping tires, swinging sledgehammers, lifting logs and carrying blocks, all in the name of training functionally.

To that end, the best use of a volatile weight like the items above is if it can be put to practical use to prepare you for real-world environments where you’re highly likely to encounter instability. Barbells bearing hundreds of pounds are all fun and games, but encountering hundreds of pounds in the wild is a completely different animal — and in some cases may involve a literal animal. This is why a sandbag can be among the most useful training tools you can ever own.

A sandbag? Come on. I don’t live on a beach, what usefulness could it possibly have?

Fair enough. The sports you play and your profession are definitely important considerations here. For instance, hypothetically, let’s say you’re a firefighter, EMT or some other first responder with job duties that might require you to move a body in an emergency setting. The average weight of an adult American is 181 pounds, so conditioning yourself to carry 200 pounds at a time isn’t an unreasonable request if you want to shuttle human bodies to safety with the ease of a superhero.

Oh, and don’t be so high and mighty serious weightlifter man. If you come across an unconscious 200-pound man in need of transport, what are you going to do? Grab him by the collar and the belt, crouch down and barbell snatch his limp figure straight off the ground? You’ll probably end up doing additional harm to the man — and plenty to yourself — if you ever attempted an Olympic lift on a live body during an escape from a burning office building. 

This is where sandbags come to the rescue. A 200-pound sandbag can serve as a reasonable substitute for a human body that’s capable of being carried at chest level, draped over a single shoulder or slung over both shoulders in a fireman’s carry position. 

Once the sandbag is hoisted into these configurations, you can challenge yourself in any of the real-world scenarios in which you’re most likely to cart around another human being. This includes walking across set distances as rapidly as possible, climbing stairs and even carefully lifting and lowering the bag.

So that’s what sandbag lifting boils down to? Emergency preparedness?

Not at all. A sandbag can be lifted in a variety of styles, including in ways that approximate lifts with barbells and dumbbells, like assorted rows, presses and curls. The muscle activation will be similar to that of traditional weight-training equipment, but with a weight distribution that will feel noticeably different and that allows your body to manage types of weight that don’t always come with steel handles fastened to them. 

Come to think of it, most objects you interact with in daily life don’t lend themselves to you perfectly placing your hands dead in the middle of their center of gravity. Instead, you’ll need to grip them from the sides, from underneath or from handles at the very top. Or, if there are no handles at all, you’ll have to do your best to get it off the ground anyway. 

Trust me: Your friends would much rather have you helping them load the U-Haul during their next move if you’ve trained with a sandbag as opposed to a barbell. Both will leave you with powerful muscles capable of moving hefty boxes, but only the sandbag is going to prepare you to manage the sliding, shifting couch they’re precariously holding the other end of.